Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
While the two bypass alternatives proposed for Highway 7/8 have their advantages and disadvantages, the route to the north of Shakespeare has one distinct benefit.
According to Ministry of Transportation project manager Charles Organ, the north bypass, which would use a portion of the existing corridor west of Shakespeare, would take up approximately 160 acres of land – about 40 acres less than the south bypass.
Those figures, however, do not take into account additional land that would need to be acquired for crossing road treatments and other roadway details.
“It’s very difficult at this point to say what the exact property impacts are going to be. (But) the loss of farmland remains the primary concern of the agricultural community,” noted Organ at Wednesday’s information centre in Shakespeare – the first of three being held to consult with the public about the many preliminary highway design options being considered.
Organ said municipal stakeholder input was the catalyst for the ministry re-examining the north bypass in greater detail. But he noted there are still concerns with that route.
He said the north bypass would not attract as many vehicles as the ministry would like to see use the new highway once it’s constructed.
The route, which would veer north just after Road 106, would also cut through an environmentally sensitive area – including the North Easthope moraine – and would sever some agricultural land, leading to other property-related impacts, he added.
Organ said the south bypass, which would take advantage of the railway corridor, was the ministry’s preferred route because it would meet the long-term transportation needs of the area and have the fewest overall impacts of the two options.
Both bypass alternatives propose using a combination of the existing corridor and Road 107 for easy access into Shakespeare off the highway – something that has been requested by the village’s business community.
Both options will be put under the microscope and evaluated using a long list of factors, subfactors criteria and indicators.
“Hopefully, and the expectation is, that the outcome of this detailed evaluation will clearly confirm where the route should be located,” said Organ.
The ministry is looking at signalized and unsignalized intersections, grade separation and roundabouts at many of the crossing roads along the route.
Asked about the possibility of multi-lane roundabouts, Organ said the idea’s received “mixed reactions”so far.
Two-lane roundabouts would be used on the four-lane sections of the highway and one-lane roundabouts when the highway is reduced to only two lanes.
Organ acknowledged the concerns some have about transport trucks and farm equipment being able to manoeuvre through the roundabouts, but assured whatever crossing road treatments are selected will be designed to accommodate the traffic.
“We wouldn’t propose anything that wouldn’t function operationally, and we wouldn’t propose anything we wouldn’t be willing to construct,” he added.
The design alternatives for the highway include keeping the section of Line 32 west of Stratford at two lanes, while possibly adding a continuous two-way centre left-turn lane to portions of Road 125 and Highway 8.
A section of Erie Street south of Lorne Avenue would also be upgraded to accommodate either a raised barrier or a fifth centre left-turn lane.
The remainder of the highway, including Lorne Avenue East, would be four lanes, with a centre left-turn lane proposed at various points.
Wednesday’s information centre was attended by several municipal representatives including Perth East councillor Andrew MacAlpine, who said despite the ministry’s efforts to appease the public and municipal leaders, he would like to see the project shelved altogether.
“I’ve spent a lot of time and effort thinking about this ... collected a lot of data and been to a lot of meetings, and I’m not behind the project,” he said.
Many of his constituents he’s spoken with are “sick to the stomach of the prospects” of a highway running near their properties, he added.
MacAlpine said there is no objective benefit for the highway “other than to service our municipal neighbours to the west at the cost of their neighbours to the east.”
He suggested if the ministry truly wants to save farmland it should upgrade the existing highway west of Shakespeare into Stratford, and let the city develop its own truck bypass.
“There’s already four lanes there. Why are we heading south and going (into Stratford) the back end?,” he added.
MacAlpine questioned the ministry’s suggestion that four lanes are required for most of the route, and wonders whether upgrades to country roads like Line 33 and Line 37 would suffice.
He also questioned he ministry’s claim that the new highway will help alleviate traffic on nearby roads like Line 29. He said he’s spoken with a transportation company in the area that told him drivers will continue to take the shortest route to their destination, whether that is on a provincial highway or a municipal road.
MacAlpine’s main concern with the project remains public safety. He noted he’s especially worried about the traffic that would be entering Shakespeare from the north bypass via Road 107, where there is a school crossing.
The ministry hopes to be able to present its recommended highway plan for the entire study area and prepare an environmental study report by the end of 2013.
Organ said that is a best-case scenario.
“It’s a dynamic and very flexible process ... when concerns are raised we have to deal with them. Sometimes that requires us to pause and do more consultations.”
Asked what is the chance of the highway project getting started within the next five years, Organ suggested it was close to zero, noting no funding has been committed to the project and that “proceeding into construction is subject to where it sits on a priority list, and there are a lot of projects on the priority list.”